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A killing, a life sentence and my change of heart
Jeanne Bishop, left, and her sister Nancy visit Scotland in 1990, the year before Nancy's murder.
February 2nd, 2013
10:00 PM ET

A killing, a life sentence and my change of heart

Editor's note: Jeanne Bishop is the sister of Nancy Bishop Langert, who, along with her husband and their unborn child, was shot to death by a juvenile. Since the murder of her family members, Jeanne Bishop has been an advocate for gun violence prevention, forgiveness and abolition of the death penalty. She is a criminal defense attorney in Chicago.

By Jeanne Bishop, Special to CNN

(CNN) - I have been paying close attention to the changes coming since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down any mandatory life sentences for juveniles who kill.  A teenager killed my sister.

He killed her dream, too. She wanted to be a mom.

My sister Nancy married young.  She was overjoyed when she got pregnant at age 25.

That dream died three months later, when she and her husband walked through the front door of their home and found their killer waiting for them.

He was a 16-year-old with a history of violence.  He wanted to see what it was like to kill someone. He found out when he broke in and shot Nancy, Richard and their unborn baby and left them to die on a cold basement floor.

When the killer was arrested, details emerged that turned my stomach. He had joked about murdering my family members, even attended their funeral.

When he was convicted of the murders, he was remorseless. When he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, I was glad.

After sentencing, my mother turned to me in the courtroom and said, “We’ll never see him again.” I was glad of that, too.  I wanted to wipe him off my hands like dirt.

I never spoke his name. I wanted his name to die and Nancy’s to live.

When a coalition of people (including law professors such as Bernardine Dohrn and Randolph Stone whose advocacy on behalf of children I have always admired) launched efforts to abolish juvenile life sentences, I was appalled. The last thing I wanted was to attend parole hearings year after year, to beg bureaucrats not to release the person who had slaughtered my loved ones.

So I publicly fought any change in the sentence.  I told myself that fight was not just for my family, but for other family members of loved ones murdered by juveniles who would be affected.  I was like Saul early in the Book of Acts, the righteous one with a zeal for justice, before he was struck down and humbled and given a new name: Paul.

Then, I repented.

My road to Damascus moment didn’t come in a blinding light or a voice from heaven. The voice that changed my heart was that of a Mississippi-born, Vietnam veteran, Yale-educated  Southern Baptist pastor and academic named Randall O’Brien.

O’Brien told me something true - that Nancy’s killer and I are both children of God, equally beloved and equally fallen. O’Brien reminded me of Jesus’ example on the cross of what to do with those who have harmed us: pray for them.

I had never prayed for the person who killed my loved ones; I had never even uttered his name.

I say it now: David Biro. I began praying for him in the only place I could: the garden where Nancy and Richard and their baby are buried. I dropped to my knees and asked God for something I never could have imagined, that Nancy’s killer get well enough to get out someday.

I don’t know that he will; he is not there yet.  But I do know that no one, including him, is beyond the forgiveness and redemption and purpose of God.

My two young sons taught me that. We were talking about loving your neighbor as yourself.  Stephen asked, “What about the person who killed Aunt Nancy?”

Brendan replied, “We can’t love what he did. But we have to love him, because God made him for a purpose.”

Brendan is right. God made each of the juveniles serving life sentences for a purpose.  I can no longer support a sentence that says never.

Repenting privately would be cowardice, since my past support for locking up some juveniles forever has been so public.  So when lawmakers in my state of Illinois consider bills next month that would abolish juvenile life sentences, I will be there to speak in favor of the mercy of a second chance.

Dr. Marcus Borg, a biblical and Jesus scholar, notes that the roots of the Greek word for “repentance” mean “to go beyond the mind that you have.”

My mind is changed; my heart is remade, and a new task lies ahead.

- kramsaycnn

Filed under: Belief • Guns • Violence

soundoff (1,981 Responses)
  1. Soshi

    I'm sorry Jeanne as I too think you are trying to make sense of this brutal, callous murder. David Biro does not deserve your "pardon". There are some some people who cannot be "saved" whether it be secular or non-secular reasons. Love and cherish your sister but give this killer no more time in your life as he doesn't deserve it.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:17 am |
  2. Thinking thinking

    You don't need a magic, invisible, man who lives in the sky to teach you what is right and wrong.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:16 am |
  3. Dee de guerra

    When my younger brother was killed by a drunk driver I wanted his killer to rot in prison. This mad my life a living hell. A friend told me to pray for this man, even if I did not belive in what I was praying for and eventualy I started praying that this man would find a 12 step program in prison and belive me it got eaiser for me thru prayer to mean what I was praying for and then after awhile I was able to pray for him in and mean it. This is the way I started to heal myself becouse hateing him took its toll on me and I was able to start to heal my self little by little my prayers started to work and I was able to forgive the man who took my sweet brothers life. That worked for me, I learned that forgiveness of any kind helps me becouse forgiveness of any kind gave my life meaning .

    February 3, 2013 at 9:16 am |
  4. Journeyman

    Some of these comments disgust me. Whether or not you personally believe this man deserves forgiveness, who are you to judge this woman for her beliefs and valid spiritual journey?!!! You are not the one in the place to forgive, not forgive, or judge. This woman is not the one who needs help, I guarantee she is in a much better place emotionally and spiritually than anyone who could write hateful, prideful, and judgemental comments such as these.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:16 am |
  5. Mike

    The author described her sister's killer as a cold blooded sociopath. A big part of the reason that he is in prison is to prevent him from killing or seriously harming another innocent family. His sentence was also designed to serve as a deterent to others like him who would find pleasure in killing pregnant women and other unarmed innocent victims.

    There is a big difference between common sense and faith. Please keep him locked him up, I'd prefer that my loved ones not be his next victims if and when this guy gets paroled.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:15 am |
  6. Jon

    Even if you believe that God created everyone for a purpose who is to say that that purpose can't be accomplished in prison?

    February 3, 2013 at 9:14 am |
    • jlrcc

      Jon - I totally agree with you. I'm happy for Jeanne that she has been able to forgive and to pray for the assailant, but forgiving someone doesn't necessarily mean letting them walk out of jail. It's quite possible his purpose is to spend the rest of his life in prison.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:25 am |
  7. TruthBeTold

    I felt for your situation. And that's exactly what I meant, you forgave for your own sake, not for the husband who abused you. You "love" is for yourself, not for him. There's a difference there.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:13 am |
  8. Fred the dog

    I am happy that this lady could find forgiveness in her heart. However, this particular criminal does not appear to be the sort who can be rehabilitated, and he should never be let out of prison despite his young age at the time of the crime.

    Now, had he been doing something typically 16 and stupid that resulted in a death (even if deliberate), then rehabilitation might be on the table. But he didn't; he showed no empathy or mercy and in fact reveled in what he'd done.

    For the greater good of everyone, some people can never be allowed to go free. Tim McVeigh was one; Ted Bundy another; this guy sounds like he fits that group as well. He just started earlier than they did.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • El Flaco

      I am 66. The boy I was when I was 16 is a total stranger to me. I have his memories, but I am nothing like him today. I am a totally different human being who bears a slight physical resemblance to that strange lad, but that is all.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:12 am |
    • Damocles

      @el flaco

      While I totally agree that the person we were is completely different from the person we are, if you deliberately kill then, you do not deserve a chance to deliberately kill again.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:14 am |
    • UrgeForGoing

      El Flaco – but you're not a psychopath. This guy killed because he wanted to know what it felt like to kill. He had no remorse. He's a psychopath. Psychopaths cannot be rehabilitated. He should spend the rest of his life in prison.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • Poltergeist

      Yes he should. That doesn't meant it needs to be her life's crusade to keep him there.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • MIchael

      That is a wonderful thing to want to forgive someone. That takes the grace of God as our normal human nature is to want revenge. However, forgivenes and consequences for actions are two seperate things. A major problem with America today is there is no fear of God and no fear of punishment. Today lawyers just have to present one little nearly impossibe scenerio and the jurors buy into it and the guilty go free. The laws have lost their teeth and often it is just a slap on the wrist. Gun laws are not the answer. Washington DC and Chicago have the stictest gun laws and this has caused the most crime, and the 2 killers at Columbine had already broken 18 gun laws. If the criminals know everyone is unarmed they have a field day but the liberals think gun control and removing capital punishment are God given rights. Rights come from God, not government. God is the one who originated the death penalty and it sounds harsh (God told Moses to kill the man found guilty of picking up sticks in the Old Testament for example) it gave a glimpse of his holiness and the fear of God caused society around them to behave better. today we lost the fear of God because Preachers quit preaching on the fear of God. America has a spiritual problem and it starts with it's churches. It is not enough to tell a judge you are sorry, it is only when the crime has been paid for that the criminal is free to go. Ever told a lie? Stolen? Used God's name in vain? looked with lust? (Jesus said that is adultery) and The Bible says hatred is murder. If honest, you would admit to being a liar, a murder, an adulterer, a blasphemer and a thief. That is the big issue. You have to face God on judgment day. Not enough to be sorry. You should be sorry. Your crimes need to be paid for. Either in Hell or by what Jesus did on the cross. That is where God's love and justice met. Where his divine mercy and his divine rath met. Our country was different when people got right with God on an individual basis. That is how you get right. The fear of God which only comes by the conviction of breaking his laws. This puts inward morality in you and puts the fear of God in you and then you see you need a big God not a big government. Our country has lost that and that is why we are headed for destruction, judgment, and lost God' hand of protection. Wake up America. But you personally need a one on one encounter with the God of the universe to be able to think for yourself.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:33 am |
  9. UrgeForGoing

    Just because she forgives, it doesn't mean we all have to.
    Some sins are too great to atone for.
    A senseless, premeditated murder is one.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:09 am |
  10. no one

    What garbage. An example of religious fanatics brainwashing people to idiocy

    February 3, 2013 at 9:08 am |
    • Mg

      Yep

      February 3, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • Poltergeist

      Yeah, she should be full of rage and bitterness and spend hours on blogs arguing instead. Clearly the healthier choice.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • Damocles

      @pol

      So what are you doing? Spending some time on these boards arguing that people shouldn't argue?

      February 3, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • Poltergeist

      I was referring more to the bitter raging.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:29 am |
    • Damocles

      It's a huge leap from no one speaking his mind to you saying it's raging bitterness.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:31 am |
  11. Was Lost

    It is simply amazing when we learn to forgive with the heart of Jesus. Never mind the naysayers they simply cannot comprehend the supernatural. Forgiveness is certainly not normal or conforming to man's natural law, but there is incredible power, healing, grace and peace when we do. It feels incredible! Everyone should try it.
    Anger, bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness are traps. They are prisons that we build for ourselves, all the while wondering why did this person(s) do this to me as we stack another brick. Set yourself free accept the free gift of love. dive right in and don't look back. Forgiveness...

    February 3, 2013 at 9:08 am |
    • Robert Brown

      Was Lost,
      I believe in forgiveness as well and I am glad she was able to forgive. Forgiveness has nothing to do with punishment for crime. We are as lenient as we can be with juveniles, although we could put the death penalty back into play.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • MikeInMaine

      Forgiveness, in the mind of the forgiver, is really just acceptance. Now if you're talking about "loving" your enemy, that would be supernatural. I don't think the writer here is at this stage yet. Can you imagine her loving the sociopathic killer like she loved her sister?

      February 3, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  12. gameshortfilm

    I marvel at people's belief in an imaginary being like God or the devil. In a couple hundred years people will read about this ludicrous, primitive thinking much like we ridicule the ancient beliefs that the sun, moon and planets were all Gods.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:07 am |
  13. beau1020

    I cannot imagine the years of anguish Ms. Bishop and her family and endured having suffered through the loss of her family. The loss of a love one, not to mention multiple loved ones at the same time due to violence, must be horrific. And as another commentator wrote I am glad that she has found personal peace to forgive so that her life may continue. But her rationale for release , based upon her personal hell, lacks logic and insight. And her epiphany does not equate to being able to speak on the behalf of societal needs, in this case safety for the overall good of the community. I too see the sadness in the loss of this young man spending his time behind bars. But he made a conscious choice (if in fact her reiteration of his trial is correct) to take three lives and as such he sealed his future fate. No, this convict ...and that is what he is , a cold blooded killer ... has NO RIGHT to ever return to society and instead should find a purpose and reason to his life behind secure walls forever! And before some of you think i am just a another eye-for-an-eye bible toting conservative, I am a registered democratic who resides in a liberal state. This is not a political issue; is about MY rights, the rights of MY family, My neighbors and My community ... and Ms. Bishop seems to have missed this point completely!

    February 3, 2013 at 9:07 am |
  14. Smarter than ewe

    Even if you're crazy enough to believe in a God, how can you really forgive this guy? Come on lady, thousands of people are killed every year under the guise of doing it for your God. If you're going to be delusional at least know this guy deserves your invisible Gods punishment. He's evil and shouldn't be granted any compassion. Wake up, you're an attorney for Budda sake.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • GDP

      Why do you have to criticize someone's faith? Does it disturb you that much? Do you vent your version of hate on everyone or just those who choose to belive in God? This is a person who displays compassion, and yet all you want to do is mock her. Your life must be miserable if feel the need to be that critical.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:18 am |
  15. Tim

    Was your sister and brother in law religious like you are? Do you think they would want the person that MURDERED them free? You seem very weak minded and should not be allowed to practice law.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • kwdragon

      While I don't agree with her stance either, attacking her personally is not the way to go about commenting. Her views have little to do with her job as an attorney and, in fact, may be beneficial in that occupation.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:19 am |
  16. News Commentator

    You're only pretty as you feel.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:04 am |
  17. DrDennisY

    Ignorance parading as piety. Very unfortunate. Major category error of confusing the roles of the individual and the state. The state's job is to provide JUSTICE. It is evil when the state provides mercy. As an individual, we are called to mercy and forgiveness...not justice. It is evil when we take justice into our own hands. (self defense is a different category) Look at Exodus 22:2 to start...

    In the classic Christian tradition, not veryone is a "child of God" based on their humanness. This is oft repeated in our culture, but it is unbiblical. John 1:12-13 "...he gave the right"; John 8:44-45 "..of your father the devil"...

    Justice is short-circuited when you confuse the roles and jurisdictions of proper action.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:03 am |
    • El Flaco

      Mercy from the state is not evil. The purpose of prison is rehabilitation – whenever possible – not punishment, and not revenge.

      There are a hundred Christianities and they have hundreds of gods. Unfortunately for clear thought, each Christianity uses the same names for their gods: Yahweh, God, Lord, Jesus, Christ, Satan, and a few others. The hundred gods called "Christ" by all of these very different religions teach very different things. It's like knowing a hundred men named John Smith: same name, different people.

      Your Christ is a hateful deity. Other Christs are much nicer.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:09 am |
  18. Scott

    I'm a God fearing man and He has said if you kill someone, you should die as well. This young man should have already had that sentence carried out. There are some people that can be better worked with in the world of spirits than we can work with them here. I say lets send more of these people home!

    February 3, 2013 at 9:03 am |
    • ejd48

      Was Jesus facilitating His Own Death by forgiving? "Forgive them for they know not what they do." Did the Roman guard who speared his side get drenched by His Blood and His Water that emitted from the Wound? Did the guard say: "Truly, this was the Son of God?" What is complete mercy and forgiveness for those who do evil? Isn't it the the facilitation for the cure of their own darknesses? If they receive mercy, does it encourage "Our God" to allow transformation of character? Perhaps so. In the case of the guard at Calvary, it did. If it was put into the writings of the Evangelists, it came from God, I believe. So, there you have it.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:40 am |
    • ??

      ..and as a god-fearing man,would you enjoy watching them being sent home?Sorry but religious people are just weird and creepy.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:42 am |
  19. kab

    Poly Klaas is dead for Richard Allen Davis’s second chance and our streets are unsafe. We have people like Jeanne Bishop to thank for putting these dangerous people back on our streets at the expense of the innocent and we never hold these the decision makers responsible for the action. It very apparent she does this because of her religious beliefs. If Jesus wants these criminals to have a second chance, he’ll give it to them in heaven.

    Jeanne Bishop-criminal sympathetic, victim apathetic, and makes your own children the test case for someone else’s second chance.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:03 am |
  20. Manny

    Hey Lady – get some help. Your inability to place blame where it belongs is unhealthy.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:02 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.